Friday 27 November 2015

Happiness is ...

... having a Great Spotted Woodpecker as a neighbour. He totally floats my boat.

Isn't he amazing?

He's a timid soul, clutching the branches of the trees in a Gollum-like fashion, and peering carefully around them to make sure the coast is clear before he ventures out to help himself at the feeders.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Happiness is ...

... finding a hoard of old bakelite knitting needles going for a song in a second-hand shop.

The other morning, as I was racing to the station, something caught my eye in one of the charity shop windows. I was late (as usual) and in a terrible rush, so I couldn't stop for a better look, but I kept thinking about it all day, hoping that it would still be there at home-time.

And happily it was: a consignment of old knitting needles. There are loads of brightly coloured bakelite needles from the '40's and 50's that lift my spirits every time I look at them. In fact I thought they were so wonderful I put them in a flower jug and displayed them on a side table.

My son, Emi, (age 9) was not impressed when he came home from school.

Weird, Mum. They look a bit weird like that. Maybe you could find a nice box for them somewhere, he said in that slightly superior tone he uses when he thinks his mum's barmy.

Well, I don't care what other people think. I think it was a tenner wisely spent and I'm very happy with my hoard displayed as though it were a bunch of exotic blossoms in my favourite vase.

Here's to the small victories and commonplace trophies that make our hearts sing!

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Happiness is ...

... seeing these little guys breakfasting just outside my kitchen window: a charm  of goldfinches enjoying a niger seed banquet.

Even though the London weather is grey and dismal they've brought a little sunshine into my morning.

Hope you're finding inspiration in whatever you're doing today.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Happiness is ...

... when you finally understand how your pattern works without having to squint at the chart ... .

Today I'm working on some Aran. It's been a while since I've knit Aran, and I'm enjoying how the whole thing ties together. It feels very organic in its construction. I prefer not to use traditional Aran weight wool. It's just too bulky for comfort. I can understand how marvellous it must have been for the fishermen and the farmers working the land on the Aran Islands with the Atlantic winds buffeting them 360 days a year, but for us urbanites with our central heating and feather-down winter coats they're a bit too heavy. I prefer to use double knitting yarn. It takes more stitches and rows and, hence, more work, but the end result just seems to work better.

I may also be historically more accurate in that preference than if I were using the Aran wool that's marketed for Aran knitting. For centuries the people on the islands have been knitting the Geansaí Árann, a gansey jumper with many of the cables and diamond patterns used in modern Aran knitting, but they used different construction methods and a finer wool. Aran knitting, as we know it today, was largely the creation of an entrepreneurial group of island women who set about knitting jumpers for sale to supplement their family income in the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century. Now as we all know knitting a jumper, especially an Aran one with all its intricacy of design, is a time-consuming business. And, if you're treating your jumpers as commodities for sale, time is clearly money. So they hit upon the brilliant wheeze of simplifying the construction techniques and using a much thicker wool that would knit up quickly, enabling them to produce more jumpers and up their earnings in the process. Thus the modern Aran jumper was born in a flourish of female innovation.

And I've been innovating a teeny bit myself. How do you like my sparkly Aran? It looks better in person, but this wool is really difficult to capture. Maybe it's something to do with the light, courtesy of our miserable grey London weather. No wonder I'm reaching for a dash of sparkle ... .

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Saturday 21 November 2015

Greece v Rome ... intelligence squared

On Thursday night Mr B and I went with some friends to a debate, Greece v Rome,  organised by Intelligence² at Central Hall Westminster. In the Greek corner, we had London Mayor, Boris Johnson, arguing the case for the world's first democracy, the satire-loving Greeks, and in the Roman corner we had the formidable Prof. Mary Beard. The billing for the event boasted that, had Mary been in charge, the Roman Empire would still be going strong! And that wasn't hyperbole. For all of Bojo's considerable eloquence and charisma, she wiped the floor with him.

Going into the debate 30% of us (self included) had no clear view, 38% favoured Greece and 32% were in the Roman camp. After Mary had finished her argument, the vote went in favour of Rome as she romped home with a 56% majority. She argued about the enduring legacy of the Romans, how they had built the first super-city in which their architecture was only eclipsed by feats of engineering made possible by the industrial revolution in the 19th century, and about how they had been inclusive extending citizenship to everyone, regardless of their country of origin or how humble their status, to create an upwardly mobile, multi-cultural society.

It was a good-natured exchange that threw up lots of interesting insights into the classical world and both speakers made us laugh. Intelligence² have an amazing programme of debates over the coming months. Videos of many of their past events can be viewed for free on their website: Intelligence Squared. The only thing to bear in mind, if you'd like to go along, is that tickets sell out quickly. So, if you see something that tickles your imagination, book it straight away.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 20 November 2015

A charm of goldfinches ...

Did you know that a gang of goldfinches are known as a charm? No, me neither, but I'm going to use it at every opportunity. It's just too charming not to ... .

I've got a few of these little chaps who come to feast on niger seeds just outside my kitchen window. And I'd hate to add up all the time in my day that gets lost admiring them. In the bad old days these little guys were under threat from the caged bird trade, but one of the RSPB's first campaigns, Save the Goldfinch, happily turned the tide, and now they're growing in numbers again.

All the best for the weekend,

Bonny x

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Handknit Christmas Tree Angel ...

Coming up to Christmas the world divides into two camps. There's the angel camp and the star camp. And me? I'm firmly with the angels. I wouldn't dream of putting a star on top of my Christmas tree.

No siree; it's an angel for me!

But here's the thing: when I trotted off to the shops for a tree-topper the only angels on offer were the plastic-fantastic variety that were all decked out in frills and cheap lace and frou-frou. And I'm even less into frills and cheap lace and frou-frou than I am into stars on the top of my Chrimbo tree. So I've knit myself an angel. She's comfortably padded, smiles angelically and wears woollen evergreen underpants: totally my kinda' winged wonder. What do you think?

I've knit her from worsted weight yarn (Sublime Extra Fine Merino Worsted) and she's really not difficult to make. Just read on for the pattern:

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Happy Elizabeth Day!

Happy Elizabeth Day!

On this day, 17th November, 1558 Elizabeth I, the great Virgin Queen of England, ascended the throne on the death of her half sister, Mary. Good queen Bess was totally my sort of girl: a gritty, witty survivor.

Elizabeths' old palace at Hatfield on a sunny day in May

Monday 16 November 2015

Solidarity ...

Today, across the UK, we're having a minute's silence to remember the victims of the carnage in Paris. I was really moved on the school run this morning to see that the little pub round the corner had hung up the tricolour in a show of solidarity. Sometimes it's the simple gestures that best express how we feel.

Thursday 12 November 2015

An unseasonably warm November ...

It's been a funny old autumn with very little cold and frost. I know I shouldn't complain, and I'm not, but it still feels a bit strange not to have the big coats out of the closet and in active service. My brain tells me every morning to put on more clothes than I need to. Last Friday night I went out with my cousin Clare for dinner. She arrived ... wearing a blouse ... with no woolly cover-up. Admittedly they breed us tough over in Ireland, but even so, that's not proper going-out-for-the-night-in-November attire.

Still, looking on the bright side it means that these guys can still enjoy their daily bread al fresco. I'd hate to be a cow who had to spend all winter in a barn with a hundred other messy cows ...

  ... and the trees get to wear their leaves for rather longer than normal.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Return of my furry nemesis ...

Last weekend I decided that it was time to dust off all my bird-feeding kit, get it all tanked up with birdie tucker and back in the trees. It's not been desperately cold or anything like that, but it just felt like it was time to get the winter-feeders back in action. And I have to admit that it's not an entirely altruistic activity: I get a huge kick out of seeing all the little critters who come to my back garden for dinner.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Angel wings and Christmas cakes ...

Mr B and Emi have been away wargaming this weekend. Whilst they've been busy commanding their Dacian troops against Trajan's Roman Legions the Wonder Dog and I have been keeping ourselves busy back at base.

In truth it's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas ... . I know, I know: shoot me now for mentioning the dreaded C-word so early in November! But, the thing is, if you're planning on making a Chrimbo cake you really need to get cracking now or it'll be too late to feed it the requisite amount of alcohol to achieve that perfect level of boozy, fruity unctuousness by the Big Day.

Yesterday I spent the morning baking my cakes. I used my old, tried and tested recipe, which you can find here: Boozy Bejewelled Christmas Cake. The house smelt divine with that wonderful fruity, buttery, spicy smell that comes from fruit cakes baking slowly in the oven. Yum!

Saturday 7 November 2015

The Green Man in autumn ... a tale of renewal and rebirth ...

The other day I was wandering through the beech wood close to my parents' house admiring the wonderful colour of the leaves when it struck me that the Green Man of our pre-Christian mythology would have felt just a little bit uncomfortable with all these seasonal changes. He always seems to be depicted in his full-summer garb with green leaves in their prime.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Perspective ...

“And those who were seen dancing, were thought to be crazy, by those who could not hear the music.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

The other day I was busy taking photographs of the world from the perspective of a daisy. A man walked by, and looked at me in that pitying, somewhat superior way people do when they think you’re a bit simple. I passed no remarks. I knew what I was about, and I didn’t need his affirmation.

This is what the chap, who thought he’d got an edge over the mad bird with the camera, missed. He didn’t see the dewdrops condensing on the blades of grass as the late autumn sun melted the fog off the lawn. Viewed from the perspective of the daisy it looked like a lush jungle dusted with diamonds. I wonder, if he’d paused to look, would he have heard the music?

All the best for now,

 Bonny x

Tuesday 3 November 2015

A foggy day in London town ...

We've been having the most amazing autumn pea souper fogs. Travelling back from Belfast to London on Sunday night was a little bit hairy. Our flight was delayed by over an hour and a half, and we were lucky to make it out at all. I remember looking at the departures board and seeing that all the Gatwick flights had been cancelled. I thanked the travel gods that I'd opted for Luton: I'd got to get Emi back to London in time for school on Monday morning.

We were shepherded onto the plane as usual, but then they kept us sitting on the tarmac until they were able to get a clear landing slot at Luton. I'm a fairly compact person, vertically challenged some might say, and Emi's small for his age. But we had a giant of a man sitting beside us who was wedged uncomfortably into his space with knees and elbows protruding awkwardly into ours.

Favour Royal Forest Park, County Tyrone ... after the fog had lifted

Monday 2 November 2015

Maxi's Christmas Jumper ...

Maxi, the Wonderdog, is scheduled for a haircut next week. Poor lamb: with the growing chill in the air he's not going to be totally delighted with that development. But to lessen the impact of his shorn locks I've knit him a jumper.

If you'd like to make one it's pretty easy: just read on for my pattern: